Tourism is both highly vulnerable to climate change while at the same time contributing to it. Threats to the sector are diverse, including direct and indirect impacts such as more extreme weather events, pollution, water shortages, biodiversity loss and damage to assets and attractions at destinations, among others. Accelerating climate action in tourism is therefore of utmost importance for the resilience of the sector.
The green transformation of the tourism sector is needed, not just for the planet, but also for tourism itself, for boosting competitiveness and increasing resilience.
To mark World Environment Day 2020, the One Planet Sustainable Tourism Programme, which is led by UNWTO, announced its new vision for global tourism– growing better, stronger, and balancing the needs of people, planet and prosperity. The One Planet Vision for the Responsible Recovery of the Tourism Sector is structured around six lines of action to guide responsible tourism recovery for people, planet and prosperity, namely public health, social inclusion, biodiversity conservation, climate action, circular economy and governance and finance.
UNWTO also focuses on the fight against plastic pollution while effectively facing the public health and hygiene challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, led by UNWTO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, published the Recommendations for the Tourism Sector to Continue Taking Action on Plastic Pollution during COVID-19 Recovery illustrating how reducing the plastic footprint, increasing the engagement of suppliers, working closer with waste service providers, and ensuring transparency on the actions taken, can significantly contribute to the responsible recovery of the tourism sector.
From 93 companies and organizations, a further 32 signatories were welcomed on board during 2021 and 2022, among them TUI Group, Palladium Hotel Group, Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, Hostelling International, Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association and Visit Valencia. To mark the confirmation of the new signatories, UNWTO and the United Nations Environment Programme, in conjunction with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, held a special panel discussion with the theme Eliminate. Innovate. Circulate. Strategies from the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative.
Another key initiative designed by UNWTO is International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories (INSTO), a network of tourism observatories monitoring the economic, environmental, and social impact of tourism at the destination level. The initiative is based on UNWTO’s long-standing commitment to the sustainable and resilient growth of the sector through measurement and monitoring, supporting the evidence-based management of tourism. Since its establishment in 2004, as of September 2022, a total of 33 observatories have joined the UNWTO INSTO network, including five that joined during the pandemic, Mallorca, Barcelona, Yukon, and Bogotá and Malaga). The INSTO observatories are required to monitor 11 mandatory issue areas: tourism seasonality, employment; destination economic benefits; energy management; water management; waste (sewage) management; solid waste management; climate action; accessibility; local satisfaction; and governance.
The UN Climate Change Conference (COP26)
(4 November 2021, Glasgow, Scotland)
UNWTO served as the voice of tourism at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) (4 November 2021, Glasgow, Scotland), launching the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism geared to commit the tourism sector to take strong to reduce emissions by at least half over the next decade and to reach net zero emissions as soon as possible before 2050.
The "Glasgow Declaration: A Commitment to a Decade of Climate Action in Tourism" sets out a clear and coherent sector-wide message and approach to climate action over the next decade, in line with the broader scientific framework and the urgency to act now.
The commitments that the Glasgow Declaration proposes to its signatories are:
Up to September 2022 more than 600 signatories had committed to the Declaration, including many important players such as the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), leading global Hotel group., Accor, the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), as well as Booking, Expedia, Intrepid and others.
“The historic deal is the beginning of decarbonization the world via tourism. Our main four pillars to enforce the declaration will be to measure, decarbonize, regenerate, and unlock innovative financing. This is the initial start, and we will work to attract more private companies. When there is a crisis, there is always an opportunity to invest, learn, and develop sustainably.” - UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.
From the very start of the current leadership mandate, in 2018, UNWTO has emphasized the importance of embracing and investing in new ideas. A new department was created in the Organization to deliver on the potential of innovation through promoting entrepreneurship, recognizing leading innovators and providing them with the practical and financial support they need to turn ideas into action.
To anticipate, address and overcome the new challenges and trends of the tourism sector, UNWTO is currently focused on a strategy on Innovation, Education, Digital Transformation, and Investments. The UNWTO Innovation Network works to promote exchange of knowledge among actors and change-makers with the objective of contributing to the promotion of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The enormous Interest in UNWTO’s innovation ecosystem and start-up competitions keeps growing, showcasing the talent unleashed and our shared readiness to hear new voices and embrace new ideas. Up to September 2022, the UNWTO global innovation ecosystem counts on than 12,000 start-ups from 160 countries, with US$83 million mobilized and 300 corporate partners working on new tourism technologies.
Entrepreneurship in tourism is built on collaboration between governments, academia, corporations, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and start-ups, as well as investors, supporting business partners and other stakeholders. Restarting tourism is unthinkable without investments that boost economic growth, job creation and sustainability.
UNWTO is collaborating with institutions including the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and the Inter-American Development Bank. These partnerships have attracted more than 200 investors as part of UNWTO’s global investment network, advancing critical work such as supporting hotel chains from 50 countries in becoming more sustainable.
In 2022, for the third consecutive year, UNWTO partnered with FDI intelligence from the Financial Times to develop a joint publication on Tourism Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), analysing data on Greenfield investments trends. Using both data from fDi Markets and UNWTO, the Tourism Investment Report 2022 found that while the tourism sector has been showing signs of recovery, foreign direct investment (FDI) into the sector remained low in 2021 and continued a downward trajectory in the first of 2022, outlining the key challenges as well as highlighting the sector’s biggest investors.
To further the partnership to grow green investments in the tourism sector, UNWTO and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) launched the Green Investments for Sustainable Tourism. Seven countries participated in the pilot phase (India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, and Vietnam), and the initiative will continue to grow. Alongside this, a new UNWTO Investment Guidelines Series: Enabling Frameworks for Tourism Investment was launched to focus on investment opportunities in several key destinations.
UNWTO is committed to enhancing the positive impact of tourism on women’s lives, and, in so doing, contributing to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 5 – to "achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls". As a sector with a majority female workforce worldwide (54%) and most women in low-skilled or informal work, women have felt the economic shock to tourism caused by and the pandemic the hardest. As such, UNWTO produced a Series of Recommendations for an Inclusive Response to ensure that women are not left behind.
The UNWTO project ‘Centre Stage: Women’s Empowerment During the COVID-19 Recovery’, is designed to strengthen, coordinate and focus work on gender equality in tourism governmental institutions. It is currently being implemented with the support of the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany and UN Women.
Through the Centre Stage project, UNWTO has supported four National Tourism Administrations, tourism businesses, NGOs and tourism organizations from Jordan, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico, as they implement a one-year action plan for women’s empowerment. This included targeted training programmes, measures to boost female career progression, improvements to the legal framework and the collection of sex-disaggregated tourism employment data.
Other publications spearheaded by UNWTO include Gender Mainstreaming Guidelines for the Public Sector in Tourism and the Gender Inclusive Strategy for Tourism Businesses, a new set of guidelines addressing the needs of women in the tourism sector. These guidelines provide concrete recommendations for governments working to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the objectives of international women’s rights treaties such as relevant ILO Conventions and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Meanwhile, the Regional Report on Women in the Middle East maps the participation of women in the tourism sector across the region prior to the pandemic. In doing so, it assesses the contribution of tourism to advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5. The report, compiled to mark the 2020 G20 Saudi Presidency, aims to inform further work on gender equality and equip stakeholders with tools they need to boost women's empowerment.
According to WHO, 15% of the world’s population (1 billion people) live with some form of disability. Accessibility for all to tourism facilities, products, and services should be a central part of any responsible and sustainable tourism policy. Accessibility is not only about human rights. It is a business opportunity for destinations and companies to embrace all visitors and enhance their revenues.
Recovery should include accessibility as a central pillar in measures to improve destinations’ offer and competitiveness, contributing to inclusive environments, services, and employment.
UNWTO continues to build on its successful partnership with the Spanish ONCE Foundation and the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT). The joint work will continue to focus on the promotion of good practices during the current crisis, the application of standards, the measurement of accessible tourism, as well as labour inclusion and institutional disability inclusive policies. All three have contributed to the International Standardization Organization (ISO Standards) being the first global standard aimed at implementing and improving accessibility throughout the tourism value chain.
Launched on the 2020 International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the UNWTO Inclusive Recovery Guide Issue I: Persons with Disabilities, suggests measures for the whole tourism value chain to build back better, becoming more accessible and more competitive. Just as other guidelines on the UNWTO series, this document will continue to be updated.
Young people are disproportionately impacted by interlinked global crises, from climate change to conflicts to persistent poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these fragilities and has put youth in the spotlight, particularly given the potential social and economic consequences for this demographic, both in emerging and mature destinations.
Youth development and engagement are cross-cutting issues in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and they can be a powerful catalyst to advance the contribution of tourism particularly for Goal 8 on economic growth and jobs, and Goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production as they can lead a transformation into a more responsible way of traveling. As the leaders of tomorrow, it is pivotal that young people become involved in shaping the global vision for the future.
UNWTO recognises youth as the present and future of the sector introduced several youth centred initiatives. Amongst them is the UNWTO Students League. The league is an innovative 360º competition for students that fosters talent development, Bridges the gap between studies and the realities of the sector and produces solutions for the Challenges of the Sector aligned with the SDGs.
Also placing young people at the centre of tourism’s future is the Global Youth Tourism Summit (GYTS), the first edition was held on 29 June-July 2, 2022, in Sorrento, Italy, and welcomed more than 120 young delegates from more than 61 countries, alongside UNWTO Ambassadors for Tourism drawn from the worlds of sport, business and gastronomy. The event included a series of international events, workshops, and other educational initiatives, that will give children and youth a unique platform to share and discuss ideas and shape their visions for the future of sustainable tourism within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Out of the Summit, the Sorrento Call to Action offers a bold and ground-breaking vision for young people to be active participants in tourism’s restart and growth as a pillar of sustainable and inclusive development.
UNWTO promotes resources aimed at strengthening the dialogue between tourism and culture, while also promoting the exchange of good practices showcasing inclusive management systems and innovative cultural tourism experiences.
Tourism and the audio-visual industry are natural bedfellows. Tourists connect directly with the sites where films and television series are made, which gives these places added value to support the sustainable development of the sector. UNWTO and Netflix have partnered on the publication of a report which looks at the role of film and series as drivers for tourism and cultural affinity. The Global Report on Cultural Affinity and Screen Tourism explores the growing affection one has towards a particular country or culture displayed on the screen.
Against this backdrop, the cultural expressions of Indigenous peoples feature among the most distinctive features of tourism destinations, making them relevant players within the sector. Despite their global significance, Indigenous peoples have historically been among the most marginalized of population groups. UNWTO has developed measures to give indigenous communities access to relevant information, which may be compromised by linguistic and physical obstacles, or scarce external contacts . Previous work with the communities, allowed tourism operators to facilitate information flow between community focal points and crisis-management entities .
Again, UNWTO and its partners presented the Weaving the Recovery project to help Indigenous women benefit from tourism through fair trade and community entrepreneurship. This initiative, which brings together UNWTO, the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA), Centro de las Artes Indígenas (CAI) and the NGO IMPACTO, was selected as one of the ten most promising projects among more than 850 initiatives to address the most pressing global challenges. The project will test different methodologies in pilot communities, starting with Mexico, to enable indigenous women access markets and demonstrate their leadership .
Tourism is a lifeline for rural communities, providing jobs, supporting rural businesses and protecting natural and cultural heritage. However, its true force still needs to be fully deployed.
UNWTO designated 2020 as the ‘Year of Tourism and Rural Development’, a theme shared with that year’s World Tourism Day. For the occasion, UNWTO partnered with Google Arts & Culture to bring together a new collection to help anyone to choose their perfect virtual travel experience, with thousands of museums and cultural destinations to explore. Alongside this, the UNWTO Recommendations on Tourism and Rural Development were released to provide expert guidance for a wide range of stakeholders.
UNWTO then designated World Tourism Day 2021 as a day to focus on “Tourism for Inclusive Growth”. This was an opportunity to look beyond the statistics and acknowledge that, behind every number, there is a person. It was a way to promote the potential of tourism to create jobs and opportunities, to advance and highlight the role tourism can play in preserving and promoting natural and cultural heritage and curbing urban migration.
With the vision of making tourism a force for transformation, rural development, and community wellbeing, UNWTO launched the ‘Best Tourism Villages by UNWTO’. promotes and enhances the role of tourism in safeguarding rural villages, along with their landscapes, natural and cultural diversity, knowledge systems, and local values and activities. It was launched on the opening of UNWTO’s Regional Office in the Middle East, underscoring the focus of the Office on, among other issues, the role of tourism in rural development. In the first round, 44 villages from 32 countries were granted the recognition, and these will benefit from continued mentoring and be given a platform to share ideas and knowledge.
Parallel to this, and under the leadership of the G20 Saudi Presidency, UNWTO and the G20 Tourism Working Group developed the AlUla Framework for Inclusive Community Development through Tourism to help fulfil the sector’s potential to contribute to and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The Framework provides guidance and inspiration to all governments, as well as all other key stakeholders in the tourism sector, empowering local communities with the aim of fostering a truly holistic and integrated approach to development through tourism.
The new UNWTO Tourism for Rural Development Programme, which includes the Best Tourism Villages initiative, will provide training for national governments and municipalities, as well as grants for individual destinations. A first Observatory on Tourism for Rural Development will also provide key data and guide decision-making in the sector.
Tourism continues to evolve, with new travel trends emerging and growing. From mountain tourism, gastronomy and wine tourism, and sports tourism to mention just a few, UNWTO supports its Members to embrace new trends and to diversify their tourism sectors.
Mountain tourism has significant potential to stimulate local economic growth and social change due to its close links with other economic activities, its contribution to GDP and job creation, and its capacity to promote the dispersal of demand. For many destinations, foodmaking as well as winemaking represent an integral part of their history and identity and have become the key elements in their branding. Gastronomy and wine tourism represents an opportunity to revitalize and diversify tourism, promote local economic development, involve many different professional sectors, and bring new uses to the primary sector.
The Guidelines for the Development of Gastronomy Tourism have been developed by UNWTO and the Basque Culinary Center (BCC), a UNWTO affiliate member, as part of an ongoing collaboration. The guidelines serve as a practical toolkit to support the development of gastronomy tourism in destinations by providing recommendations on key aspects such as planning and management by national tourism administrations (NTAs), national tourism organizations (NTOs) and destination management organizations (DMOs).
In a further boost to Africa’s gastronomy and tourism potential, a dedicated session to celebrate the continent’s diverse culinary offering was held during the 6th UNWTO World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism in Bruges, Belgium.
“It was a significant period in the history of African gastronomy celebrating the continent’s diverse culinary culture and opened doors for people to get curious about African gastronomy. It was a brilliant idea and it exposed my project and gave me a platform to move on.”Sierra Leonean Chef Fatmata Binta, participated in the session and subsequently became the first African to win the Basque Culinary World Prize
The UNWTO World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism builds on the Organisation’s work in promoting innovation. The Gastronomy Forum similarly represents a unique opportunity for experts from across the growing field of gastronomy tourism to share new ideas and best practices in promoting Rural Tourism and Regional Development. Likewise, the UNWTO Global Conference on Wine Tourism allows leaders in their field to find concrete solutions to build back better and make tourism an enabler of the way forward towards a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient future for rural communities.
Sports tourism is also one of the fastest growing sectors in tourism. More and more tourists are interested in sport activities during their trips whether sports are the main objective of travel or not. Mega sport events such as Olympics and World Cups can be a catalyst for tourism development if successfully leveraged in terms of destination branding, infrastructure development and other economic and social benefits.
Working together, UNWTO and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) will build on the potential of sports to celebrate shared humanity, foster friendship across borders and create experiences and opportunities for people everywhere. Tourism and football are natural partners, bringing joy to many millions with benefits going far beyond vacations or single matches.
Tourism emerged out of crisis at a crossroad. If it is to realize its full potential to drive sustainable and inclusive development while also fulfilling its climate action responsibilities, the sector cannot continue along the same, pre-pandemic path. UNWTO emphasizes the vital importance of rethinking and transforming tourism.
In the build up to World Tourism Day 2022, the determination of both the tourism sector and of tourists themselves to do more and to do better is evident. However, the actions of individual tourists, single businesses and destinations will not in themselves be enough to deliver transformation at the speed or scale required.
Looking ahead, UNWTO emphasizes the importance of whole-government approaches to tourism reform, alongside enhanced public and private partnerships. Tourism can only deliver on its unique power to provide opportunity and drive sustainable and inclusive growth if it is given practical and economic support. The future starts now.